Part 1: Hot tips for time management in case writing

Part 1: Hot tips for time management in case writing

Jeff Herzog CPA

Practice is the best way for CPA candidates to hone their time management skills and succeed in case-writing. Developing this important skillset early in CPA PEP also maximizes a candidate’s chances of acing the Common Final Exam (CFE) and getting those three letters—CPA!

By Jeff Herzog CPA

Jeff Herzog CPA passed the CFE in September 2017. He’s an accounting instructor at the University of Alberta and is active on Instagram @jeffthecpa.

Time management is a critical component of case writing. This concept is most important on the Common Final Exam (CFE); however, candidates should work to develop time management skills throughout CPA PEP to set themselves up for success.

If you review the feedback that the Board of Examiners provides after every CFE, they consistently mention candidates’ ability (or inability) to manage their time effectively. Candidates skip certain assessment opportunities (AOs) because they do not have enough time to address everything and/or spend an inordinate amount of time on AOs where they feel stronger. This reflects poorly on a candidate’s exam and may lead to an unsuccessful outcome.

CPA PEP helps build the skills necessary to pass the CFE, and the habits you pick up in each module will follow you into the CFE. Therefore, I recommend building good habits sooner rather than later. Here are my tips to help get you started.

Hot tip #1: budget your time, silly!

Write out a plan of attack for each case. Many candidates jump into writing a response immediately after reading the case. Managing your time as you write does not work well for most people; what does work is creating a plan. This provides a visual layout of your requirements so you can assign time to each component.

I suggest that you spend about 25-30% of your time reading and planning your case. For a 60-minute case, this would be about 15-18 minutes. Use this time to write margin notes and create a plan (either on a separate sheet of paper or your laptop). This provides you with an overall mission: to lay out your requirements and address them all within the time available.

Next, take about two minutes to allocate time to every AO. Give more time to AOs that you areless comfortable with. For these AOs, you will need more time to read the handbook, sit and ponder, or piece together case facts. As such, you want to allocate more time to allow for this. Treat AOs as if they were your children, I always joke. You have to love them all equally—even if one of them is testing your patience.

Allocate time in five-minute multiples, and then adjust where needed. Some candidates find it helpful to write out the start and end time for each item (e.g. 9:00-9:03, 9:04-9:10, etc.).

As you practice more, you will learn how long it normally takes to address certain AOs. For example, I know that an audit planning memo normally takes me about 17 minutes, so that is what I normally budget for. Take note of how long you need to complete recurring deliverables as you complete your weekly assignments. Keep these times in the back of your mind. If you see a similar AO on an exam, you will know how much time to dedicate to the AO.

You must identify all of the AOs in your plan; however, avoid rewriting the entire case in your own words. Instead, your plan should contain brief notes with reference to information in the case. You may reference specific numbers, important case facts, or margin notes.

In Part 2 of Jeff’s “Hot tips for time management in case writing series, he tackles how to stick to your time budget. Stay tuned for more tips from Jeff’s four-part series of blog posts.

The views expressed in this post are those of Jeff Herzog CPA. Please refer to for the latest guidelines from the CPA Western School of Business.